Breaking It Down

Breakdown: Raptors d. Jazz, Nov.5

Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images
Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Raptors 124, Jazz 111

Recap

  • Another exceptional road performance by the Raptors.
  • They struggled early on giving up points off of turnovers and finding consistency in their ball screen defense. Once they cleaned both of those up, they were very good.
  • Offensively, the Raptors got whatever they wanted in the ball screen. Utah’s guards had problems containing Lowry and VanVleet, who effectively picked them apart.
  • Once the Raptors locked in defensively, their transition game took off. The Raptors scored 19 points in the second quarter alone, and did it in a variety of different ways (see below).

Defense

  • Without Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz were without a dynamic creator on the offensive end. As a result of not having a match-up that could create closeout situations on their own, they became heavily dependent on their next best strength in the half court – ball screens with Rudy Gobert as the roller. With his length and ability to catch lobs over the top, Utah felt that if they could cause separation with the Raptors’ guards on the ball screen, Gobert’s roll to the rim could create advantage situations that they needed to find success against the Raptors’ defense.
  • For the first quarter and a half, the Raptors had trouble consistently defending the ball screen with Gobert, which led to many easy Jazz scores around the rim.
  • For context, the goal of the Raptors ball screen defense is to force the guard into an uncomfortable mid-range pulp or floater. They do not want to give up easy dump offs or lobs to the roller. Their keys are:
    1. Force the defender to come off the screen to their weak hand.
    2. Guard -Avoid the screen (don’t get wiped out by it), keep as little separation as possible with the ball handler, and trail the guard effectively so that he doesn’t feel comfortable.
    3. Big – The big’s goal is to bluff at the ball handler and force him into a mid-range shot. The Raptors do not want to give up the roller, and therefore the big doesn’t want to commit to the guard until the guard commits to finishing at the rim.
  • Watch this example of the Raptors forcing Utah into the shot they want in the ball screen:

Green forces the ball back to Ingles’ weak hand, he loses separation but keeps close enough to trail Ingles and make him feel uncomfortable. JV bluffs at Ingles without losing Gobert on the roll, and the Raptors force Utah into a difficult floater.

  • In these clips, watch as the Raptors struggled to contain the ball handler, which led to a legitimate 2 on 1 with the big, in which Utah was too easily able to score at the rim.

Ingles gets strong hand on this ball screen, and Green gets completely wiped out by Gobert. Too much separation between Green and Ingles leads to a 2 on 1 in which JV decides to prevent the lob, but can’t effectively stop the guard as well.

Again, Green lets Ingles strong hand and can’t avoid the screen. This time, JV commits to Ingles, and the roller has a straight line to the rim.

This clip is a DHO (same principles apply). Green, again, gets beat to the strong hand, but trails well. Ibaka commits too much to the ball handler and leaves Gobert for an easy lob. Especially in this situation, Ibaka should have stayed with Gobert. The reason being is that the Raptors have 3 guards on the strong side who could have done more to dig or help on the ball handler.

Last clip – another hand-off that the guard allows to get to their strong hand. Exum blows by Delon and forces Ibaka to commit at the rim, leaving Gobert wide open for an easy lob.

  • As mentioned above, the Raptors were inconsistent covering the ball screen. However, once they figured it out and cleaned up their mistakes (essentially after the first quarter), they really limited Utah in the half court.

Delon does a great job on the first action, reducing the space between him and the ball handler, than on the hand-off. He can’t keep the ball weak but trails effectively. Ibaka retreats but is loaded and ready for the roll, daring the guard to finish at the rim. Once the guard commits, Ibaka can contest late and make it difficult.

This a great possession for the Raptors. OG does a great job keeping Rubio to his weak hand and uses his length and athleticism to contest Rubio, enough for him to not want to shoot the pull up. JV waits in the paint, knowing he only cares about Gobert on the roll on and not Rubio’s shot.

Offense

  • In the first quarter of this game, the Raptors scored 16 points either directly or indirectly from ball screens.
  • In the second quarter, the Raptors scored 19 points in transition situations.
  • Let’s take a look at both:

Ball Screen Offense

  • The Raptors had the Jazz playing catch-up in the ball screen all night.

Just as the Raptors want to avoid getting hit by the screen, hitting the guard on the ball screen is crucially important for the guard to create separation. Watch here as JV gets to the guard’s body, allowing Lowry to walk into an uncontested 3.

As a result of the first play, Gobert is worried about Lowry shooting the 3. Watch in this clip as he steps towards Lowry (and away from JV), leaving JV wide open on the roll.

Right before this clip, VanVleet beat Exum strong hand in the ball screen for a layup at the rim from the same spot on the floor. This time, he keeps him to the sideline, but they hard show/double the ball, causing a 2 on 1. After that, it’s a series of attacking closeouts, leading to an easy finish at the rim.

This is the third straight Fred/Exum ball screen in 3 straight possessions. After beating Exum to the rim, then moving the ball after a trap for an easy score, Exum is clearly on his heels and not fundamental defensively. VanVleet rejects the ball screen, creating a lot of separation and walks into a 3.

  • As mentioned above, you can see how in these clips the Raptors were taking whatever the defense gave them in the ball screen, and Utah was having a very difficult time containing the Raptors.

Transition

  • Another game, another impressive performance by the Raptors in transition. What stood out to me in transition was how many different ways the Raptors scored. In these clips below, you will see a transition 3, three attacks to the rim by different plays, a deep paint touch leading to an open 3, and a big running the floor for a score at the rim – all in the second quarter.

CJ knocks down an open 3 in transition. Seems simple, but if teams have to worry about catch and shoot 3s like this, it’s only going to open the floor more for Lowry, VanVleet and Siakam to attack the rim (as you’ll see below).

First, notice how hard Ibaka runs. Now, turn your attention to Exum who could stop Ibaka, but has to respect CJ because he just hit a transition 3.

The Raptors fly down the floor off of a defensive rebound, and Lowry does a good job of moving the ball into space. VanVleet gets deep, forces 2 defenders to cover him, and makes an easy pass to OG for an open transition 3.

  • With the Jazz again being on their heels, this time in transition, the Raptors start to attack 1 on 1 in transition and the flood gates open:

New Sets

  • X to Staggers

The Raptors ran this set tonight for a wing post up that I haven’t noticed yet this season. After Lowry replaces himself and receives the reversal, the Raptors set an X screen for OG to post him up, while occupying the backside with a staggers action.

  • Short Action

Not necessarily new as they’ve run this before on occasion, but it’s worth highlighting as the Raptors may trend in this direction. With Siakam not shooting the 3 very well, the Raptors space him to the ball side dunkers spot off the ball screen – this puts him in a position where he is more of a threat to score. Siakam’s man leaves to help on the roll, and as a result of him being within his range, the Jazz must commit to him (if he was at the 3, they wouldn’t have to). Confusion ensues and the Raptors get closeouts, leading to a finish at the rim.

  • Sideline ATO

Very well designed play by Nick Nurse after a timeout. The Raptors overload the strong side of the floor and run a DHO with Lowry coming towards the strong side. As a result of the overload, there is no defender on the offside to help on the roll and JV gets an open dunk.

Looking Ahead

  • It is worth keeping tabs on how the Raptors defend, and utilize ball screens and DHO’s. They are both incredibly difficult to cover well if you cannot switch every player on the floor, because if you cannot switch, you are going to have to determine what you want to give up to the offense and what you want to take away. In today’s NBA, every team is running ball screens and DHOs more than any other offensive action, so keeping tabs on the Raptors’ ability to defend ball screens is worthwhile and will be telling in the long run. If we think big picture, the Raptors are going to run into teams like Boston (with Kyrie) and potentially the Warriors (with Steph) who will put an incredible amount of pressure on a defense in the ball screen.
  • The Raptors utilized a zone defense for 4 possessions in the second quarter, and got stops on 3 of those 4 possessions. Keep an eye on this as a potential defensive adjustment moving forward.
  • A trend that I have noticed is that the Raptors are more advanced defensively at this point in the season than most of their opponents are offensively. In the short term, this is likely the main factor for the Raptors 10-1 record, but it is something to keep an eye on moving forward.
    • The concern is this: The Raptors help freely all over the floor, and they do so quite often. Unstructured help, combined with how hard the Raptors compete defensively, seems to be highly effective against teams that don’t re-space well after the initial penetration – and most teams right now aren’t re-spacing well. However, as teams become more advanced and get better offensively, the Raptors’ tendency to help randomly and sporadically all over the floor may lead to a defense that is always chasing the ball – especially considering the Raptors have shown that they have difficulty covering dynamic guards 1 on 1 (See my breakdown vs the Bucks). As I watch teams like the Bucks, Celtics and Warriors move the ball exceptionally well on offense, it is foreseeable that the Raptors will have issues against elite offensive teams.

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